REMARKS by a police chief over extremism in Portsmouth have been criticised as ‘dangerous’ as the row over how the problem is being dealt with escalates.
Simon Hayes, Hampshire police and crime commissioner, has sparked outrage after claiming primary school girls were at risk of being radicalised and turned into ‘Jihadi brides’.
About half of my Muslim pupils are girls. I haven’t heard a single five or six-year-old Muslim girl saying they want to be a Jihadi bride.Polly Honeychurch, headteacher of Cottage Grove Primary School, in Portsmouth
Leader of Portsmouth City Council Donna Jones called the comments ‘dangerous’ and has sent a letter to the Home Office to complain about Mr Hayes, saying he needs ‘enhanced training’ over issues with national security.
Meanwhile, Polly Honeychurch, headteacher of Cottage Primary School – which has a large percentage of Muslim pupils – says she is ‘incensed’ by the remarks.
The row, which included a Twitter spat between Cllr Jones and Mr Hayes, comes after The News revealed how the police and crime commissioner said at a public meeting that the council was not taking its role to stamp out the threat of terrorism seriously – and has only recently employed someone to help drive its anti-radicalisation strategy.
Mr Hayes insists his comments are ‘factual’ and came from police working with young children they are concerned about.
But Ms Honeychurch, headteacher of Cottage Grove Primary School, said: ‘I am absolutely incensed by Mr Hayes’ claims.
‘Sixty per cent of my school pupils come from ethnic backgrounds, and a large proportion of those are Muslim.
‘About half of my Muslim pupils are girls. I haven’t heard a single five or six-year-old Muslim girl saying they want to be a Jihadi bride.
‘I am very aware of the Portsmouth Muslims who have been killed in Syria and aware of the families who have been charged with terror offences.
‘I have tried to get the police into school to work with the children on this whole issue, but the Prevent strategy and the police involved in it are only going into secondary schools.
She added: ‘What Mr Hayes said is scaremongering. We need people to understand different faiths and where people come from.’
Portsmouth has been classed as a second-tier area under the national counter extremism Prevent scheme, meaning there is a higher risk of radicalism.
It comes after six young men left the city to fight in Syria.
But in a letter to home secretary Theresa May, Cllr Jones wrote: ‘I am extremely disappointed and have serious concerns about these inaccurate allegations, which have politicised and trivialised this important national security issue.
‘We have forged strong links with residents, community leaders and organisations and work is under way to raise awareness of hate crime and extremism, as well as establishing what more can be done to prevent young people travelling to Syria.’
Cllr Jones told The News: ‘I am deeply, deeply concerned.
‘What he is doing is sending out the wrong message and managing this the wrong way.
‘The lack of professionalism is unbelievable.’
Cllr Aiden Gray, deputy Labour group leader, said: ‘What disappoints me more than anything is it seems like a very cheap shot, when we have a city council and officers who are working exceptionally hard to engage with the community.
‘We shouldn’t be using this as leverage to instill fear in people.’
Mr Hayes said she wants Cllr Jones to address what the council is doing to prevent radicalisation instead of launching a ‘personal attack’ on him.
‘What I would have expected from Donna was her to say we are taking this seriously, to say this is what we have done, these are our plans for the future, instead of launching a personal attack around my professionalism saying I have made the situation worse in Portsmouth,’ he said.
‘What I am looking for the council to do is reassure me, reassure the wider public and reassure the home secretary that the city council have a plan to take on the responsibilities which the government has given them.’
He added: ‘Hampshire Constabulary is engaging with primary school children in Portsmouth. They are aware that primary school children in Portsmouth are at risk of being radicalised.’
Cllr Jones’ letter to the home office
Dear Theresa May,
I am writing to make you aware of inaccurate and dangerous remarks made by Simon Hayes, police and crime commissioner in recent interviews with the media regarding work on Islamic radicalism in Portsmouth.
I have enclosed a copy of an article published in The News on 19th May 2015 for your reference: portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/crime-commissioner-simon-hayes-criticises-work-on-islamic-radicalism-in-portsmouth-1-6751005.
In the article, Simon Hayes makes the following comment, ‘I hope Portsmouth City Council will take their responsibility seriously – and I’ve yet to see that’.
On 20th May 2015, I was interviewed by the BBC, which was aired that evening.
In my interview, I stressed that Portsmouth City Council takes extremism very seriously.
Simon Hayes was also interviewed and again provided false information in stating that, ‘there are still, even recently, in recent months (let alone 2013) young girls, in schools in Portsmouth, saying that they would wish to become Jihadi brides and these are young girls of the ages of 5 and 6. So these are problems that are current, that haven’t been dealt with’.
I am extremely disappointed and have serious concerns about these inaccurate allegations, which have politicised and trivialised this important national security issue.
We have forged strong links with residents, community leaders and organisations and work is under way to raise awareness of hate crime and extremism, as well as establishing what more can be done to prevent young people travelling to Syria.
We have also created a video highlighting the dangers of people travelling to Syria. Additionally, we have delivered the Home Office’s training package aimed at raising awareness of frontline workers about vulnerabilities associated with extremist behaviour.
I would also like to make you aware that we have recently appointed a Prevent Coordinator (tier 2 funding). As you are well aware, the Prevent programme is part of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy and involves work with a range of agencies, including the police to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
I would like to take this opportunity to request that you direct special branch to provide Simon Hayes with enhanced training on how to deal with critical matters relating to national security.
I’d be very grateful for your support regarding this importance matter.
Councillor Donna Jones
Leader of the Council
cc David Williams, chief executive, Portsmouth City Council